This week on Wednesday the Church began its Lenten journey with the distribution of the ashes at Masses. These are a reminder that our life here is not forever. On this day we start to put into practice the promises we have made, whether to abstain from or take up, various things as we move towards Easter Sunday. Lent is a time of opportunity to repent and recommit to God.
From preparation, penitence, and discipline to prayer, Lent is known as a time of spiritual renewal and growth. As Christ fasted and prayed for those long days in the desert, in the abode of the devil, which is the wilderness, we try to be mindful of Him for the standards by which we live our lives, with goals of self-giving and suffering love.
What’s in a Name?
The word itself is traced to an Old English word lencten (related to “lengthen,” referring to the lengthening of days) that simply referred to the season of spring.
The penitential season in the Church always fell during the springtime in Europe and over the centuries the word “Lent “became synonymous with the liturgical period. Additionally, for the Anglo-Saxon people, it was an easier word than the official Latin title. In Latin, it is called Quadragesima, which means the “40” days before Easter. This term identifies the season with the 40-day period of preparation before the celebration of Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection.
Actually, there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but the 6 Sundays of Lent are not counted for they are the Lord’s Day which includes a celebration of the Resurrection, and as such are a little Easter.
Giving up our ‘aul sins’
In the 1960s a charmingly delightful audiotape called ‘Give up your aul sins’ was recorded during catechism classes in Rutland Street school in Dublin. Many years later it was made into a film and received an Oscar nomination.
In one of the recordings, we hear a young pupil telling the story of John the Baptist who prepared the people for the coming of the Christ by urging them to ‘repent for the Kingdom of God is close at hand,’ or as the child tells it John the Baptist called on them to ‘give up your aul sins.’
At the start of Lent, Jesus himself repeats the same message, ‘The kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent…’ The word repent is metanoeite, a Greek word which is derived from meta (beyond) and nous (mind/spirit). The essence of metanoia is that we are called to a new way of seeing and being. Whereas once our minds and spirits were set on lower things than the Creator, now we are called to change direction and focus on Him from whom all good things come.
The Three Pillars of Lent
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the traditional practices of the Church which are intended to transform us and renew our spiritual lives. However, we may be viewing them through cloudy lenses. Are we really setting proper prayer time aside and staying committed to it? Have I really been praying at all? Should I consider getting up half an hour earlier to make the time?
If we are changing our eating patterns it should not be about “losing weight”. The whole purpose is to aid prayer – to make it easier to listen to God more openly, especially in times of need. We could also look at the idea of fasting in regard to our relationships with others. That could mean not indulging in angry comments or judgemental ones. This may result in far more beneficial results than might accrue from giving up desserts or cream cakes. As a Church, we journey together and in Lent, we should reflect not only on our own individual lives but also on how we treat other people.
In terms of almsgiving, are we truly looking out for other people? How much of our time are we devoting to others as opposed to ourselves? Could we give more? Could we afford to donate to a chartable cause or organisation? Could we take more care of those most easily overlooked, our close family and friends?
This Lent, God is calling us out of our laziness and controlling habits our criticisms of others, our complaining, our criticising, our negativity, and our resistance to the forces of good. We should try and let our fasting be sharing our food with the hungry, and our penance be a helping hand, words of love, forgiveness compassion in our families, neighbourhoods, and communities.
God our Father, with great joy and hope, we come to you this Lent, help us to listen to your Word and act its call to holiness. In the light of your Love may we bloom anew through Lent into Spring
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan